Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young people. According to recent statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), someone dies from suicide every 40 seconds, which amounts to nearly 800,000 individuals each year.
Given the prevalence of suicide in our society, it is likely that someone you know - either a family member, friend or coworker - is currently suffering from suicidal thoughts.
In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), we’ve created this article to help you identify and support the people in your life who may be dealing with suicidal ideation.
Suicide Prevention: reasons for hope
The theme of this year’s WSPD is “Creating Hope Through Action”. This article introduces five actionable steps you can take to help someone you know who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Thanks to years of mental health awareness efforts from organizations like the WHO and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), suicide is increasingly becoming more acceptable to talk about. Moreover, therapies for treating depression and other mental health disorders have become more effective.
Suicide is a tragedy for the self-inflicting individual and their loved ones. But with timely, evidence-based interventions, suicides can be prevented.
Take Action: 5 steps to help someone you know who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts
1. Reach out and say something
Although it's encouraging that talking about mental health now carries less of a taboo, most people struggling with suicidal thoughts are not inclined to speak about their issues or seek help. They may feel ashamed or want to avoid placing their emotional burdens onto others. If you suspect that someone you know is not doing well, reach out and say something.
Being proactive can move things in a positive direction (and it doesn't hurt to always practice a bit of openness and understanding yourself!). Here are some great leading questions, inspired by the Australian suicide prevention group R U OK (ruok.org.au) :
"With everything that's been going on, you've been on my mind lately, how are you?"
"Just checking in to see how you are coping with everything at the moment?"
"I'm here to listen if you ever want to talk more"
"I would like to keep checking in with you, is that okay?"
It's important to reach out if you feel you have the headspace to do so and can make yourself available. If you think you think you might struggle to make this commitment, speak to another mutual friend or family member who might be in a better position to follow through.
2. Listen when they're ready to talk
If you take the initiative to reach out to someone you suspect is struggling, it’s important to actively listen to them when they talk about their issues. Oftentimes, individuals who are dealing with suicidal thoughts feel that no one understands them or cares about what they’re going through. If you listen to them carefully, you’ll be able to respond in a way that lets them know they are being heard, understood, and supported.
Remember, that in this moment you are not assuming the role of their therapist, but rather a compassionate ear that will listen. It's also not your role to offer solutions or convince them otherwise of their perceived problems. This could make them feel unheard and less comfortable sharing what's on their mind.
You can have a positive effect by simply acknowledging what they say and that they feel they can let out their thoughts with no judgement. Here are some questions or statements that can help them feel listened to.
"It must be hard to feel that"
"Thank you for sharing that with me, it must be difficult for you"
"From what you have said, it sounds like you have been having a tough time lately"
“When did you begin feeling like this?”
“Did something happen to make you start feeling this way?”
“How can I best support you right now?”
“Have you thought about getting help?”
Don’t feel like you have to have the perfect responses. Many people who are dealing with suicidal thoughts find it therapeutic to vent or talk about their issues openly. You can have a positive effect by simply being an active listening ear for them. After the conversation, softly suggest professional mental health resources they can use in the future.
3. Create a safe environment
If you decide to reach out and listen to someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, make sure you do so in an environment that is safe. A safe environment is one where the individual can express themselves openly without fear of being judged or surrounded by other people they are not familiar or comfortable with.
If it is a close work colleague, maybe the work environment might not be the right situation and you could agree to meet up at someone's home outside of work hours. Getting out in nature to a park or going for a walk, can also be a peaceful and private space to reflect and talk.
4. Connect them to professional services & support
Reaching out to someone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts is an important first step. But remember, unless you have the appropriate training, you can't assume the role of counsellor or psychologist. This is best left to a professional service. You can always help them find a service or offer to call the practice to find an appointment time for them. But it is important they feel included in this decision.
Therapy has proven to be an effective source of suicide prevention. But if your loved one is hesitant to see a therapist, you can alternatively suggest they call a suicide prevention hotline or join a support group. Details for suicide support hotlines are listed below.
If you reach out to someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, make sure you follow up with them after your initial conversation. You’ll want to ask if their mood has improved, but also check to see if they took advantage of the professional services you suggested. It will likely take more than one conversation for your loved one to seek out the help they need. Follow up with them regularly until you see clear signs that they are in a better place.
Here are crisis support hotlines you can call in your region: